Courage

After being one-half of a couple for decades, those who find themselves single again after age 55, can face incredible loneliness and despair.  Whether it is because of death of a spouse or divorce, starting over again alone can cause overwhelming  anxiety.  

Everyone deals with their grief in their own way. Many find that meeting with others who are also suffering through a loss, is a help.  Others find time with family is a way to cope, while others spend hours alone dealing with their sorrow.

It takes time to adjust to the absence of a long-time partner in any situation, but there will eventually come a time when the sadness lifts and an individual is ready to enjoy social activities again.  They realize that they may have 15-20 years of life left to live.  Many times the friends that they currently have are married or having moved to a new city to be close to family, but knowing no-one else, can be isolating.

I have met many individuals in my work  that are in the very beginning stages of this process. When I first meet with them, you can see the sadness in their eyes and tone as they discuss their partner who is no longer with them.  But, at the same time, I see the willingness and desire to begin their life again while no longer being part of a couple.   Whether because of a death or divorce, they are trying to reinvent themselves alone, after 55.

This is where the courage comes in.

How many remember having to do something for the first time and the anxiety that comes with it?  If you are on the shy or introverted side, it makes it even harder.  Did you ever have to move and start a new school where you did not know anyone?    Or, how about going away to college or starting a new job where you were all alone?   Who will I talk to?  Will everyone be friends and I will be ignored?   Will they like me?  Do I know how to act in this new environment?

Add those types of fears onto someone who is older, who is attempting to make new friends and engage in life without their “other half” for the first time in many, many years.  

It is much easier to stay home and feel safe, wrapped in the memories of the partner who they are living without.  It takes courage to do what is necessary to go on.

I have seen time after time how difficult it is the first time one of my Silver Connections members attends their first event.   How easy it would be to turn away and just leave!  They consider it, they begin to turn back, but they don’t. 

In spite of the fear and the anxiety, they know it is time. They will never forget the memories of the past or the person they shared such a large part of their life with.  They put their hand on the door, open it,  and with courage….begin to take the first steps to live life again.

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“You’ve Got To Have Friends” The Importance of Socializing For Those Age 55+

There was a song that was made popular by Bette Midler in 1973 called “You’ve Got To Have Friends”.  Friendships and socializing with others is important at any age, but especially in the 55+ years.   

I would like to tell you about a lady that I know named Jane.  At 70 years old, she has a vibrant social circle.  Though she has been widowed for many years, has at times struggled financially and has lost a son, she is rarely lonely.  Her friends and her social interaction has kept a sparkle in her eye, warmth in her laughter and bounce in her step.  Jane is a perfect example that one of the secrets of successful aging lies in our friendships with others.   

Not everyone has the social structure that Jane has; whether it is because of relocation, divorce, widowhood, retirement, or just a shift in friendships, both men and women may suffer from loneliness as they grow older. How can social interaction affect overall well-being?  

Having lots of friends and social connections is very good for your mental and physical health. A massive study of 4,725 age 55+ randomly selected residents of Alameda County in California found that those with the fewest close friends and social connections had mortality rates that were two to three times higher than those with high levels of social connectedness. Also, life expectancy tables show a difference of nine years between people with very poor social connections and those with very good ones. Friendships and continued socializing as we age creates a feeling of belonging, a buffer against stress and a sense of purpose in feeling needed by our friends. When a friend reflects to us that we are loved and valued, our thoughts about ourselves rise in a corresponding matter.  

Close friendships, through protection against isolation, provides benefits such as maintaining the elasticity of blood vessels, maintaining healthier blood pressures and lowering cardiac inflammatory protein levels. Friendships can also encourage health–promoting behaviors like proper sleep and exercise, and friends will let you know when they don’t approve of your smoking or eating too much.  Friends also help out when you need a ride to the doctor or bring over soup when you have a cold.  

Scientists have long observed that a lack of social interaction and friends, by contrast, is also major risk factor for disease and early death, comparable to high blood pressure, obesity, and other serious health risks. “Being socially isolated is comparable to the negative effects of smoking for your health,” says James Coan, PhD, a psychologist and neuroscientist at the University of Virginia. “Lonely people tend to react more intensely to life’s problems and feel more threatened by a difficult situation. This in turn may cause high blood pressure, increase in heart rate, sleep disturbance and depression. “ 

 Scientists are also finding out that we are hardwired to seek out others. Too much alone time and our bodies send out distress signals. When a person feels lonely, their brain responds by increasing the levels of the hormone cortisol. Over a long period of time, this hormone can harm us by destroying neurons that affect memory and interfere with sleep.  When people experience social exclusion, it activates the same region of the brain when we’re physically hurt.  Humans require others to survive and feel distress when they are isolated. 

 My friend Jane lives so well as she has grown older because she cultivated her old friends and has stimulated her mind by getting to know new ones.  She has never forgotten, beyond anything else, that we all truly need each other.